In-demand lock Henderson puts IRFU on high alert

Iain Henderson.

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The IRFU have a battle on their hands to retain Iain Henderson's not-inconsiderable talents after the second-row revealed yesterday that he is the subject of interest from a handful of overseas clubs.

After Simon Zebo announced his departure from Munster last week, attention has turned to the coterie of high-profile internationals who are also out of contract at the end of season including Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander, Rory Best and Henderson.

The 25-year-old is in line to be offered a central IRFU contract in the coming weeks and is likely to form a key part of Joe Schmidt's plans for the 2019 World Cup, having starred for the Lions in New Zealand last June without forcing his way into the Test team.

Henderson's rare power is a real asset to the Ireland team, while he is a major player for Ulster where he has been named captain in recent weeks.

However, his performances for the tourists have opened several doors and he says he will consider a move abroad despite Zebo being omitted from the Ireland squad as a result of his decision to sign for Racing 92.

"My contract is up at the end of the season and after the summer tour and stuff there has been some interest from other clubs and places," Henderson said at the launch of Canterbury's Rising Strength Video Series.

"Simon leaving and not being selected is done on a player basis and the form of his play and a few other factors.

"At the end of the day I will just sit down and have a chat with Joe, and maybe sit down with (IRFU performance director) David Nucifora and see before making any serious decisions.

"But I think those kind of chats and decisions about where to move to all come in to (play) probably a wee bit further down the year than in a while.

"I suppose it is kind of up for grabs at the same time, you've got to remember that it's players' livelihoods, their jobs.

"Like, if they're offering something like what I've read with Simon, a relatively lucrative amount that he mightn't have been offered by Ireland, it's a financial decision for him as well as a rugby decision."

Recently married and still young enough to move at the end of his next deal, Henderson is considered lower down the scale when it comes to the risk of an exit but after Zebo was prised away from his home province there is a sense that no one is beyond the reach of the French and English clubs.

"I'm not completely closed off to the idea," Henderson said of moving abroad.

"You've got your family, your friends, a club where you're already familiar with the coaches, the fans, the management - you're already established so there's obviously a side where you have got to understand that you'd have to go away and rebuild all of that.

"On the other hand, players sometimes have to think about themselves and sometimes the club a player's at will play on that and say, 'well, they're comfortable here so therefore we can offer them a bit less'.

"It's kind of trying to weigh up a couple of options and trying to see what's best for the player.

"It also depends on what club is approaching the player, there'll be some clubs who are more suitable for some players.

"Some players know other players at other clubs, some would be more suitable depending on languages whether it be France, Italy or whatever.

"Players moving, it's not just all about signing a piece of paper, there's a whole lot of lifestyle changes, house moves and stuff that go with it and that may prove to be slightly more difficult than it might seem at the start."


Languages, he conceded with a laugh, were never a strong point but the ball appears to be in the union's court if they are to secure a prize asset for the rest of this World Cup cycle and beyond.

Henderson is expected to profit from Donnacha Ryan's decision to take up an offer to move to Racing 92 by establishing himself in the Ireland second-row this season.

Last year, he was in a constant selection battle with the Munster man and eventually joined him in the engine room as Devin Toner was left out for the Six Nations finale against England.

Henderson revealed that Toner has been laid low by a bug this week, while Kieran Treadwell has been released to play for Ulster in South Africa this weekend.

With James Ryan recovering from the head injury he suffered last weekend, it appears likely that Henderson will partner Toner with Ultan Dillane on the bench against South Africa next week.

"I think three wins from three looks successful for Ireland," Henderson said of the month ahead.

"I think anything less than that we'd have to go away and look at reasons why it went wrong."